COLUMBIA, SC — Two schoolteachers, a retired state employee, a minister with experience as a teacher and administrator, and a paralegal with deep volunteer roots in the public schools are the five candidates seeking an at-large seat on the Richland 1 school board.
A special election is set for June 4 to fill the seat left vacant by the death of longtime board member Barbara Scott. Scott, who died in March, was an enduring figure in Richland County politics, having served as clerk of court for years as well as two separate stints on the school board.
The candidates who hope to succeed her are set to meet Thursday at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Benedict College. The league is inviting questions for the candidates. They can be submitted at the 6 p.m. forum at the Benedict College Center for Continuing Education or by email in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Already, supporters have hosted some candidates at neighborhood drop-ins and the candidates have made the rounds at places like the Rosewood Crawfish Festival.
On Thursday, Hand Middle School teacher Pamela Adams, a mother of three children, received an endorsement from the Richland County Education Association.
In making the endorsement, RCEA president Christi L. Lewis said: “The RCEA is impressed with the possibilities of what a recent classroom teacher can offer the board regarding what our students, educational professionals, and community need quality public education to be!”
Adams, 37, said Friday she is supporting state Senate legislation that would provide extra reading support for third and seventh graders because she believes those years are key if students are to succeed as literate adults. She said that if elected, she would also work for more education and training for teachers and enhanced technology in the classroom.
“I haven’t worked out the kinks for paying for it, but that is one thing that would increase the literacy rate,” she said of more professional education for teachers.
Adams, who has taught social studies to seventh-graders and S.C. history to eighth-graders over the past 11 years, including in the single-gender program, said she would resign her teaching position to devote herself to the board full time if she wins.
She has told her students’ parents that she would sacrifice the classroom to have an impact on the entire district of 23,000 children.
“I feel really strongly that I would have a lot greater and bigger impact coming from the classroom to the board,” she said.
Reginald Sims, 52, a special-needs teacher at Sandel Elementary School who has also taught at the middle and high school level, said he would focus on boosting salaries of certified and classified employees, monitoring the use of district consultants who advise on testing tactics and safety inside schools.
Sims said he worries that the district does not allow enough time for teaching strategies to be implemented and examined, so that teachers end up ricocheting from strategy to strategy and “teaching to the test.”
“Let’s give these programs some time to see if they work,” he said. “We can’t just look at one or two test scores. We need to slow down.”
Sims said he wants to focus on improving salaries to attract and retain teachers. And he said that if he’s elected, he will push for more security cameras inside schools.
Karen W. Wilson isn’t convinced that a teacher is the best representative on the seven-member board. She believes her focus as a mother to a 14-year-old son, a schools volunteer and former paralegal makes her an ideal person to deal with issues of poverty, communication between board and community, and enhancement of academic achievement.
“It has got to be dealt with,” Wilson, 54, a part-time fitness trainer, said of the issues of homelessness and poverty that confront the district. “These children are coming to school having not eaten since they left school the day before. They are coming to school having not been prepared by anyone. ... They don’t have the supplies.”
“We’ve got to make sure we are serving those top-producing students and keeping them challenged, but we also have to be sure we are taking care of the children at the other end of the spectrum,” she said.
Doretha Bull, 64, a retired Department of Social Services employee who ran unsuccessfully for state superintendent in 2010 and for the Richland 1 school board in 2008, said she wants to enhance vocational training along with academics to make sure students “finish high school with a diploma and a skill.”
“There is a large segment of children who could benefit from skills training,” to become electricians and plumbers and other craftsmen, she said. “Nobody is trying to motivate them to explore the avenues of the trades.”
Bull, whose now-grown children attended Richland 1, said the community needs students who are prepared to work and contribute. “So many of our students are just walking the streets.”
As a former social worker and supervisor, Bull said she would place more social workers in the schools and require them to pay home visits to discern how much support children are receiving at home.
Candidate Deborah Belton, a pastor who holds a doctorate in theology, said Friday she believes her past experience as a Richland 1 teacher, assistant principal and principal has prepared her to serve on the board.
“My experience is vast,” she said. “I’m really pushing for excellence and equity and accountability.”
Belton, 57, who chairs the School Improvement Council at C.A. Johnson High School, said she wants to make sure every child has the same educational opportunities, “so we can ensure that every child can be educated to the best of their ability.”
“I would add to this board because of the experience I have had in the past,” said Belton, who is a mother and grandmother. “I can bring about a connectivity.”
Raymond Cook, a mathematics teacher at Lower Richland High School, had filed to place his name on the ballot. But he said Saturday he has withdrawn his candidacy and will support Belton.
Cook praised the credentials of all candidates in the upcoming election, saying he thought each had strengths.
“I think it is going to be a good race,” he said.